"Monsters, Inc." marks another enjoyable romp from Pixar Animation and Disney, creators of the "Toy Story" films, although its imaginative setup and clever humor give way in the end to a series of chase scenes that come one after another at an increasingly frenetic pace.
As a result, the movie never quite achieves the depth of emotion that made "Toy Story 2" one of the best movies of 1999 -- animated or live action, for adults as well as kids.
3 stars = Good
Voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Mary Gibbs.
But "Monsters, Inc." does deliver the mandatory lump in the throat before it's over. It's hip enough that adults will get the inside jokes while kids enjoy the colorful characters and the action.
If they're young enough, they may identify with the fear of the monster in the closet. But everyone should get a kick at how the movie turns the whole concept around.
The creatures live in Monstropolis, a place that must import all of its energy. The source: a kid's scream. The power company: Monsters, Inc., which sends its hideous employees through closet doors around the world for more of that infinitely renewable resource.
The top scream producer is a hairy lug with horns named James P. Sullivan, or Sulley for short (voice of John Goodman), whose fearsome appearance masks a gentle spirit. His tightly wound little one-eyed buddy, Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal), does all the paperwork and most of the preening and worrying. Think of them as Kramden and Norton (or Fred and Barney) with their personalities reversed.
One night, Sulley finds a closet door on the production floor after hours. He opens it to look around and, when he's not looking, a little girl (voice of Mary Gibbs) comes through the door into Monstropolis.
It turns out the monsters are just as afraid of us as we are of them. They think a child's touch is toxic. So panic ensues when her presence becomes known, leaving Sulley and Mike trying to hide Boo (as Sulley calls her) until they can find a way to return her to her world.
Of course, it's not that easy. Sulley's rival, Randall Boggs (voice of Steve Buscemi), would love to see the big guy disgraced. Mike's girlfriend, Celia (voice of Jennifer Tilly), finds his behavior suspicious. And Sulley finds himself growing attached to Boo.
Many of the movie's best moments come in the setup, particularly in our introduction to Monstropolis. As Sulley and Mike walk to work, we get to meet the denizens of the town and enjoy any number of sight gags.
One very funny new character is introduced late in the film, when Sulley and Mike find out what happens to monsters who get caught breaking the rules. He inadvertently helps Sulley find a way to get back in enough time to save Boo from Randall's evil clutches.
The rest of the movie consists of the aforementioned chase scenes, as Sulley tries to stay a step ahead of Randall while trying to retrieve Boo's closet door so he can send her home.
The pace accelerates to the point where the characters are riding a virtual roller coaster through the Monsters, Inc. plant. But the action is so fast that there's no time for the imaginative problem-solving and heartfelt teamwork used by the "Toy Story" characters in similar circumstances.
But the kids aren't likely to mind and if an adult's attention should wander, he or she can marvel at the movie's demonstration of the latest advances in computer animation -- or ruminate about what it will cost for the "Monsters, Inc." merchandising.
It is a business, after all. They don't call it "Monsters, Inc." for nothing.